Florence – The Review

So this one is more of a destination review, more so than a specific recount of events although there will be a smattering of my personal highlights and a couple of anecdotes 🙂

I’ve been to Florence twice for two different types of holidays and since the trips I’ve done loads of reading on the city, it’s so interesting. I mentioned in my first post that I’m surprised we don’t learn more about the city in history classes considering how important it has been over the years especially in the Middle ages.

The question “what is your favourite holiday” is a really tough question so when I ask my self I break it down to multiple questions….favourite beach holiday, favourite activity holiday and stuff like that and Florence is my favourite city holiday.

Florence is a fairly big city in Tuscany, it neighbours Siena and Pisa, home to Fiorentina and the old part of the city is home to some of the most iconic buildings in Italy along with some iconic and stars he events….I think I’ll describe some of the buildings/Places and some of the events, things to do then let you know some of my personal experiences of the City.

Santa Maria Del Fiore cathedral

This building is arguably the most famous and most recognisable building in the medieval city of Florence. The Florence Catherdral nicknamed “Il Duomo” due its huge dome, is situated in the centre of the town with all the big roads seemingly leading to it. If you ignore the hundreds of tourists and gimmicky shops and just take in the building itself, it’s so impressive. This blog is supposed to be about fun trips and not about architecture plus I’ve linked the Wikipedia page if you want to know the rich history that goes on with this building. It is one of the reasons I love the city as I’ve. It been anywhere else where one building stands out so much in the city skyline, Florence has an abundance of mad buildings all entrenched in history but none quite so fun to look at as Santa Maria Del Fiore.

Here is a picture of The Florence Cathedral that I took on my most recent visit. The picture is taken from Piazzale Michelangelo which I’ll go on to below

Boboli Gardens

The Medici family are important to the history of Florence and these “gardens” were the residences of the Medici Family. On a nice afternoon there is so much interesting stuff to do here topped off by fantastic views of the city and surrounding country side. I think any trip to Florence needs to include an afternoon here. You can take a walk over the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge on your way too or from the gardens. It does tend to get a bit busy every now and again but it’s just volume of people and not really queues. Boboli Gardens is good for people seeking a bit of culture or history, someone who might be looking for some great photographs and there are also places you could just chill out and relax!

The Grounds of Boboli Gardens

Piazzale Michelangelo

I chose this location as it’s one of the best places you can watch the sun going down. When I went the second time we were keen to watch the sunset and we asked our Air BNB host for a location and she sent us here, strangely we couldn’t find any good places online seems bizarre as in preparation for this blog I done some research (yes, might not seem that way) and this location is everywhere so I’m sure it won’t be my blog that sends you there regardless well worth a recommendation you can head up there have a beer get some quality photos and watch the sun go down!

Basing yourself in Florence will allow you to take the train the Pisa or the bus to Siena or for a longer journey you could even get the train to Rome and I think that staying in Florence gives you so many benefits. Compared to Rome Florence is much cheaper both to fly to and to live, it is very similar to Siena in terms of architecture and history but it is much bigger and there is a lot more to do then in Pisa other than the obvious (below)there really isn’t much to do.

The obvious

Anytime of the year you could enjoy the Uffizi Gallery, Michelangelo’s David, walk over the world famous Ponte Vecchio for less culture concerned travellers there is some great shopping to be done in some very exclusive shops. There are plenty of parks to walk around and its not very well known but Florence has a vibrant nightlife. So there really is plenty to do!

If you go at the right time of year you can watch Calcio Fiorentino, this happens on the third week in June every year and four teams compete across three matches of some kind of like football / rugby except much more violent, other than kicking people on the floor and sucker punches pretty much anything is allowed. It’s a big festival in the city and should be attended if you’re there at the right time.

There is another event that’s held in the neighbouring city of Siena this one is a horse race through the city streets the Palio di Siena its developed over many years 10 riders race through the city streets on horse it started originally on Bulls. It’s held twice a year, Early July and Mid August and so if you’re staying Florence you could get the bus to Siena and have watch this event

So for a night out a lot of people head down to Piazza Santa Spirito where there are loads of bars and restaurants but what a lot of people do is sit on the steps of the church and have a beer there kind of like bring your own bottle. Whilst being Drunk in public is a bit of an issue this place has a bit of a chilled vibe and there are a lot of younger people there. If you want to do some pre drinking there and then head out there are a bunch of night clubs dotted around the place and many members clubs that are open even later than the night clubs.

When we last went there we stayed in an Air BNB right next to the Ponte Vecchio, it was me and 4 friends. We spent a day walking round the city and seeing the sites, then a day in Rome and our final day we spent exploring Boboli Gardens. After a particular heavy night where we got in at 5am (yeah, I’m double hard I know) we woke the following morning and headed out to see Michelangelo’s David when we got there we found out the queue was going to be two hours and the queue was so big it was outside…….it was raining. I’d seen David before so really wasn’t keen to queue and see it again, I think it’s the closest my friends have ever come to falling out it was queuers vs non-queuers and it seems like non-queuers were the biggest babies because we ended up not queuing and going for Lunch instead. 4 of us ordered and David (not the statue) didn’t order food, after the waiter left our table David decided he was hungry for a starter and the conversation went like this – David “I’ll get *insert starter here*” Alex/Wolfy “oh that sounds nice can you get me some” David “sure thing man, leave it with me you can count on me not to fuck things up” ……. 15 minutes later when the food arrives Alex/Wolfy “excuse me garson, where is my dish that I ordered I seem to only have this small appetiser” Friendly Italian Waiter “your friend he come up and cancel yours mains and said you only want the starter mamma Mia” then theme tune music came on and we all said in unison “thattttttts David” and the credits rolled.

I realise that this story is not a “reason” to go to Florence but just a nice little anecdote that brings a smile to my face for when I read this back to get my page visits above 10. Seriously though it’s a great location and whilst I see a bunch of people visiting Italy I feel like Florence does get somewhat overlooked despite being a popular destination…..anyway so yeah get yourself there.

Anyway…..the next one will be fun anecdotes.

30 before 30

I was 28 and I had just come back from a Trip around South America, a trip I’d been keen to do for years and then after the trip I saw that I was close to visiting 30 countries so I decided that I wanted to get to reach that landmark before I turned 30. Now I’ve turned thirty I get to relive it all by writing it out and bore all four of you reading it.

I promise to make hardly any of it informative and I promise even less of it will be funny.

A big thing worth mentioning is, I was young for some of these trips and so if you’re expecting long detailed accounts of every trip you’re going to be disappointed, in fact, if you’re expecting anything more than a glorified diary with some personal anecdotes then you will likely be disappointed. In fact disappointment will be a running theme.

Now the low expectations have been set and I’ve mitigated any of the abuse I’ll get from my friends we can get started.

Here are the 30 countries that I visited before I was 30.

One final disclaimer, in order to record the countries I have been too I used the “been” app, some of the countries listed on there aren’t recognised UN nations, I’ll get over it I’m sure you will too.

  • Portugal
  • France
  • Spain
  • USA
  • Andorra
  • Bulgaria
  • Denmark
  • England
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Scotland
  • Sweden
  • Germany
  • Vatican City
  • Wales
  • India
  • Bahamas
  • Mexico
  • Saint Martin (French side)
  • Sint Maarten (Dutch side)
  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Peru
  • Uruguay

This list started when I was about 6, my parents took me to Portugal, this is where my first ever clear memories came from, questionable parenting lead me to being taught how to swim at four in the morning in the hotel pool. I was really lucky because my parents took me to other places as well like Spain and Greece so I had loads of great holidays when I was a kid and though it was lost on me then I was crossing off countries. Then I got to 18 and the holidays with my friends started.

I think the most enjoyable thing for me to do is pick out a couple of highlights from certain places then I’ll answer some specific questions….that I asked my self.

France

My parents took us to Disneyland Paris when we were kids, it was a surprise, we knew we were going somewhere and then in the morning our parents told us to wake up as we had to go and get on the coach because we were going Disneyland, I probably cried with excitement. I remember loads about the trip. We stayed in a cowboy hotel, we watched a firework display, my parents watched the Disney parade whilst me and my brother went on Thunder mountain 7 times. It really was amazing, even if I was too small too go on Space Mountain!! (I probably cried at this point as well). We went on a coach with a load of my Dads mates and their kids just a quality long weekend away.

That’s the kind of insight in to locations you’re gonna get so if you’re looking for actual insight on hotels and shit…..you’ve definitely come to the wrong place (glorified diary, remember).

Andorra

So this one was a school trip I think I was in year 9 or 10, it took forever to get there on the bus! The teachers made me sit down with them…..probably cos they knew I’d be the most entertaining over the rest of the kids, I’ll tell myself that’s the reason at least! I learnt how to Ski on this holiday …..well snow plough. Years later when I went skiing again with my girlfriend and her family I naturally thought you snow ploughed down every hill, FYI you don’t, my girlfriend and her family found my technique questionable! It was a trip that stuck out in my mind just cos it was something I’d never done before. Lovely place though! And skiing is quality.

Netherlands

More specifically Amsterdam, been a few times now.

It’s such a weird place, everything is so “in your face” the drugs, the sex, the drinking……i might sound like an actual pretentious writer here but the city has sooo much more to it. It’s so pretty. One time we woke up and my mate smoked with breakfast and I just took him out on a walk we walked so far out of the city, we walked for so long that my friend sobered up and got annoyed that we’d gone so far. I was pleased we did it though as I got to take in more of the city than I usually do on trips to Amsterdam, the architecture, the culture is so much more than just a decent stag do location. If you’re prepared to slum it you can get flights and hotel from London for a midweek stay for well under a hundred quid.

I think everyone should go there once despite it being expensive when you get there.

India

Me and my mates done a quality trip in India we went to Delhi, Goa and Mumbai. I need to split these out

Delhi

It is the most crowded place I have ever been in…..my……life. We got on the underground and it was empty….we turned up at Delhi station and I laughed out loud. It was RIDIC!!! Picture the scene of kids trying to get on their school bus all that pushing and shoving, it was like that just out in the open.

It seemed like every man and his dog was telling us we needed a security pass and to go to “Connaught place” which it turns out is a hot bed of conmen and excursion outlets. Thankfully a cab driver took pity on us after our will had finally been worn down and we were about to hand over some money to the conmen just to get them off our backs. The taxi driver took us to our hotel which was still standing despite multiple accounts from the conmen saying that it was “burnt down”.

The Locals had an odd trait of asking for pictures with us but to take them with our own phones…..here is an example –

The picture was taken at the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi, one of the largest mosques in India. Well worth a visit it’s a proper impressive building.

I will probably go in to more detail about India at a later date but key points are it is Cheap and it is busy!!!!!

Goa

This was probably the best beach holiday I have ever been on. We stayed a few nights in the north of Goa then went south for a few days. There are so many beaches there you can just go to a different beach every day some of which you’ll turn up to and be the only people on the beach…..the only people….surrounded by cows and dogs.

I didn’t actually realise how big Goa was before I went I naively believed we could just stay Central and get a cab north and south as necessary but that was not the case hence the split in the trip. The good news is the cabs were like 40 quid for a 2 hour drive so not bad at all.

The north has more bars and clubs and when you think “Englishman abroad” this is more their location I think a massive plus to the North is the ability to get naan breads in the nightclubs at 3am if you really want and tbh you really should!!!!

In the North we turned up at our “hotel”, for want of a better word and after the hotel manager painfully slowly counted our money four times he led us to our rooms. We’d paid for two twin rooms, a fact which was lost on Jabba the Hutt. (Pictured below)

This man was so greedy, the way he fingered our notes as his counted them still gives me the creeps to this day. I think it’s safe to say that Grant HATED this man, much of our holiday was made up of listening to Grant rant about how much he hated him.

Anyway Jabba opens the door to our room, and we find two beds and two mattresses and we were like “nah nah nah, not in this heat” we need two twins. So he proceeded to knock on the next door neighbours room and tell them they needed to get out the room as we needed it. Rightly so, the other guests were confused and refused, giving Jabba an even bigger headache. Then he opened a third door and there was an empty room, why didn’t give us this room before trying to kick the Russians out is a mystery I don’t think we will ever get to the bottom of.

The south was much more chilled out just days spent on the beach then nights in a beach bar, the more spiritual amongst us can partake in Yoga and there are a few activities you can do in land like visiting the elephants.

Watch out for Crabs (they nip, don’t they Grant).

There’s a funny anecdote in the South of Goa, and it’s a bit of an inside joke but it ended with me with egg on my face after paying for Grant’s taxi.

Mumbai

The most cosmopolitan city. It was busy but no way near as busy as Delhi.

There were a few stand out parts to the trip to Mumbai and the number one stand out part was the hotel staff, Hotel Apollo.

Sorry to skip right to the end of the trip but it was a highlight. When we left the hotel a fight almost broke out over who would take our bags, we didn’t really understand what was happening until we got downstairs when the entire staff on this hotels payroll were standing at the bottom of the stairs in a “give me a tips” arms outstretched position waiting for us to put notes and coins in their greedy hands. Running out of money made it harder to keep track of who I had and hadn’t given money too! Then when we got in our taxi they were all standing in the road waving us off. For us this was very odd behaviour!!

Shorts were banned at one of the bars we went to. Alex and Jack were wearing shorts and the workers made them borrow trousers from the hotel and they were the worse fitting trousers ever, why none of us have a picture I’ll never know so instead –

Here’s a lovely picture of us doubling our entire holiday spend by buying one cocktail at the Four Season Mumbai.

Grant is taking the picture

Saint Martin

Famous for its beach by the airport runway and the colourful town Phillipsburg St Martin is a very nice island. I went last year with my girlfriend Carolina.

On the island You get around by “bus” or it’s more like a shuttle service-ish….these minibuses just pick you up on the side of the road. At the beginning it is very difficult to navigate these buses but once you get the hang of it you can get round the island for well cheap. The minibuses get very crowded with locals and the greedy drivers will fill their buses as if they’re trying to beat some sort of world record.

There is loads to do on the island and some of the beaches are ridiculously nice.

I would recommend staying on the Dutch side of the island as the French side was decimated by hurricane Katrina. There is a rebuild in progress but the people we spoke to have said there is not enough money to do it properly apparently the French government isn’t giving them any money……surprise suprise fucking French 😛

One town on the French side that didn’t get destroyed was Marigot, there is a really short (but steep) walk up to Fort Louie and you can get some great panoramic shots of the town. Instead of doing that I took a bang average photo as seen below.

On the walk up this Fort both Carolina and I were cat called by a bunch of community service workers. They were trying to be helpful but only came across sinister!

South America

There is so much to say about South America. I wrote notes on the who trip so I’m gonna put that in a different blog so fully expect that.

Answers to questions that no one has ever asked me.

What’s your favourite ever city break?

What a convenient Segway to talk about my favourite city in the world……Florence. I first went there about 8 years ago, I thought it looked quality. Old school buildings, famous history, places to go out and small enough to walk around. It’s somewhere I think you could as a couple, alone or as a group of friends. I would happily go back again and again and I am sure I’d always discover something new.

Not only did the place look amazing I found myself intrigued by the history of the place, we grow up learning so much European history and I thought to myself that considering Florence had such an important part of that history we learn so little about it. So many famous people of history we know about today lived or visited Florence! I won’t bore you because you’re likely not as interested as me but research Florence when you have a chance.

Things to do there can be quite expensive but if your after cheap then it’s worth going and just looking round at all the buildings the big churches, the buildings that are now museums, you can go to neighbouring towns Sienna, Pisa which also have things to do and if you are there long enough you can easier do a train journey to Rome for the day.

At night there is plenty to do. My friends were skeptical when I suggested it as a venue for our holiday and were all pleasantly superprised by how good it was for food and drink at night.

It helped that our AirBnb was located in an amazing location right by the famous bridge ponte vecchio which made getting around so convenient.

I massively recommend this place.

Favourite “activity” holiday?

I was eleven we went to Florida, is that enough explanation?

Seriously though it was good of my parents to take us there I absolutely loved it and I am part of that creepy group of people that wants to go back there before I have kids…..then get moaned about by other adults on social media “ThE qUeUe WaS sO lOnG aNd It WaS aLl ChIlDlEsS aDuLtS”….yeah and what Monica? Just tell Tarquin and Erica they’ll have to wait, I wanna go on Thunder Mountain.

We stayed on International drive and had buffet for breakfast every day and steak every night. Hi America, the English have arrived.

So many of my most vivid early memories are from here, if you have kids (and there is two sad facts here 1) the people reading this are only ever gonna be my friends 2) I’m getting older so those friends have kids) then you have to go here start saving now!!!

What’s your favourite ever holiday?

So, I wanna say South America or India BUT for my 30th birthday we went to Vegas and it was the bollocks. I absolutely loved it people say “you’ll love it when you go there ” and “it’s amazing” and you go there with high hopes and think you can only be let down but you won’t be it was everything I wanted and more, if I was rich I’d go back again and again.

There was 11 of us 7 in a House 10 minutes away from the strip and 4 of us in hotels on the strip. The house was booked on air bnb and for how nice and how big it was it was so cheap I think we paid 300 each for five nights or something like. I loved staying in the house it was a highlight of the trip to spend so much time with my friends but I was envious of the guys staying in the hotels I suppose it felt like that we’re getting a more authentic Vegas holiday. Looking back though I don’t feel like I missed out at all maybe if I go back in a smaller group I’d stay in the hotels instead.

There is so much to do there for gamblers (obviously) non gamblers, drinkers and non drinkers, all types of musics, food entertainment just so much you won’t know until you go.

My favourite hotel/casino was probably New York New York on the inside but from the outside it was the Encore which is where my friends were staying.

One thing I hadn’t accounted for was how BIG the place was. It was so big! You go there thinking ahh we’ll spend the day walking up and down the strip popping in to hotels and casinos and such……you won’t you might be able to get to three maybe four a day if you whizz round them!

We took a day out of the trip to go to the Grand Canyon, it was probably the highlight of the trip. It’s mind blowing how big the place is. We went to the West ridge as it was a closer drive than the more popular South Ridge, I didn’t feel like we missed out though.

In England we would have fences up all over the place and you wouldn’t be allowed close to the edge, here though you can walk right up to the edge no barriers it was madness and sent my anxiety through the roof! All completely worthwhile. I loved it.

Get yourself to Vegas and to the Grand Canyon it’s a trip of a life time. Or perhaps I felt that way because of the company I keep, who knows.

I keep notes on most of my holidays so I think I am going to post this once or twice a month. Hope to keep myself entertained and hopefully not come across too cringey to the 8 people (it’s gone up four) that read this. My plan is too work my way down the list in a bit more detail probably break it up with the South America blog at some point as that’s already written 🙂

Other places you can see my ramblings are my twitter and facebook @dukeross and Ross Tunnicliffe